Blog

This is the place I come to to moan and get it outa my system. Or to brag about summat. Just general ramblings.

These are the earliest entries into the LPMCC.net Weblog.

DateSubject
22 Feb 2008AJAX v JIF
23 Feb 2008JPG v GIF
24 Feb 2008Where are all the telegraph wires?
25 Feb 2008Book Up
26 Feb 2008Breaking with Convention
28 Feb 2008Men Can't Multi Task
1 Mar 2008Half Cocked
6 Mar 2008Random Links
12 Mar 2008Information Loopy
17 Mar 2008Ex Machina
19 Mar 2008Missing the Point
20 Mar 2008Vélib'
21 Mar 2008How To Kill A Biker (1)
29 Mar 2008Good Riddance
31 Mar 2008Essential Software
1 Apr 2008Check the Date
2 Apr 2008Keeping Things in Proportion
3 Apr 2008Following a Star
19 Apr 2008Quasi Database
24 Apr 2008On Target
26 Apr 2008Mick Barr
27 Apr 2008Blame Google
29 Apr 2008Search Me
1 May 2008Where Next?
2 May 2008Load Off My Mind
3 May 2008Mapping It Out
13 May 2008Reflected Glory
16 May 2008Climate Change
25 May 2008Extreme Site
31 May 2008Graph Spree
1 Jun 2008More of the Same
2 Jun 2008Phone a Friend
10 Jun 2008Testing Times
16 Jun 2008Skype Nite*
17 Jun 2008Firefix
18 Jun 2008A Foot in the Door
20 Jun 2008Modern Cars
2 Jul 2008Tarting up the Pies
3 Jul 2008Don't Knock It
19 Jul 2008Cache in the Attic
1 Aug 2008What happened while you were away
6 Aug 2008YouTube AudioSwap
9 Aug 2008Really Random Ramblings
11 Aug 2008Slippery When Wet
14 Aug 2008Microformat
1 Sep 2008First the Good News ...
5 Sep 2008New Kid on the Block
18 Sep 2008Triumph Font
1 Oct 2008Now I'll Panic
6 Oct 2008Wet Leathers
7 Oct 2008Tag, You're On
28 Oct 2008Up And Up
1 Nov 2008Fanfare
3 Nov 2008No End of Pages
21 Nov 2008You're a Piano
1 Dec 2008Still Getting Lost
8 Dec 2008Sounds Awful
10 Dec 2008Name on the Map
21 Dec 2008Music To My Ears

AJAX v JIF

AJAX (Asymmetric JavaScript And XML) is a nifty bit of coding that lets me grab the content of one page and show it on another page. Some of it is explained in the Content Help Page. It means I don't need to update more than one file, lazy sod that I am.

AJAX works really well and I should learn to leave well enough alone. It has to be delivered from a server so I cannot test it off line. I decided to see if I could bring the content in by opening the data source page in an IFRAME tag and use JavaScript to getElementById and plonk it into the visible page. I call this JIF - JavaScript IFrame.

Lesson one: I can make the IFRAME invisible by using CSS display:none; but if I want JavaScript to find any image dimensions there aren't any if there is no display. So I made the CSS width:0px;height:0px;overflow:hidden;

Lesson two: Firefox doesn't let you hide things by making them zero size. So the iframe in Firefox shows as a black dot (If you know where to look for it). OK, I'll tell you; It is at the bottom of the page just above and left of the star rating - not visible in Internet Explorer. I could experiment with making visibility:hidden; or positioning it off the left of the window.

Lesson three: When I tried to pick out the content with getElementById I found that Firefox doesn't do that for ADDRESS tags. In fact it only seems to pick out from DIV, SPAN and OBJECT tags. But Internet Explorer will work for anything except OBJECT tags! So I had to use DIV or SPAN.

Lesson four: Everything worked hunky dory. Open the source page into the IFRAME than pause a bit using setTimeout("read_source()",1000) for it to all arrive before finding the bit I wanted to put in the parent page.


document.getElementById("target").innerHTML =
window.frames[0].document.
 getElementById("source").innerHTML;

The beauty is it works from my local files without needing a server.

Lesson five: I put it all online and tested it. Zilch! Now AJAX has a built-in security feature. You can only import a file from the same server. This is to prevent spoofing. ie, passing off the content of someone elses website as your own. Lo and behold, there appear to be similar restrictions on the IFRAME trick. I could not even get data from my own pages.

So after getting that far, writing and testing loads of JavaScript and having changed dozens of pages, I had to backtrack and set them all back to the AJAX that was working perfectly well.

Well, not quite right back. I put an OBJECT tag inside every ADDRESS tag so Firefox will deliver the AJAX content and I configured the JavaScript to use AJAX online and JIF locally.

Summing Up: If it ain't broke - meddle.

JPG v GIF

Some time ago when I did the T‑shirt pages I was forced to resave all the badge pictures as GIF files because that was the best way for them to have transparent edges, necessary for where they overlap each other. There are a couple of problems with using a GIF file instead of a JPG file.

  1. The GIF files are about three times bigger than the JPG files.
  2. The GIF files can only use 256 colours compared to the millions of colours available for JPG files.

In the past I made the edges of the JPG files transparent using CSS filter:chroma(color=#FFFFFF);. The Filter styles only work in Internet Explorer. I wanted to make the site work in Firefox, so filters were out.

I ended up with two copies of 1437 badges on LPMCC.net, one full set as JPG files with 40% compression and the other set GIF files with transparent edges.

Yesterday I took the bull by the horns and changed 156 pages so that from now on I only use the GIF files. Longer download times for the badge pages. I just timed the T badges page at 11 seconds.

It was not all that long ago that all the badges were on one page and I had a trick that started by showing quarter size greyscale badges resized to full size. Once they had all arrived the JavaScript replaced them with the full size color version. Most folk were on dial-up connections and I was trying to put something on the screen quickly until the full badges arrived. It just delayed the time for the full badges to appear so it was dropped as visitors moved to broadband.


If you want a book that covers filter styles, JavaScript and the DOM I recommend The DHTML Companion By Robert J Mudry, published by Prentice Hall PTR, ISBN 0-13-796046-8

Where are all the telegraph wires?

I am old enough to recall travelling on a steam train, dreamily gazing through the window as the telegraph wires move up and down above a panorama of fields and villages. Spotting houses with an H on the chimney showing they can afford a television.


I like Doctor Who. I like the TARDIS. I will go out and find it. Or an AA box, or an RAC box or any telephone box that still works, before they are all removed. Mobile phones have totally taken over, not just here in Blighty where we are all in range and can afford our kids to have them. In developing countries they have overtaken landlines because they don't need wires laying over vast distances (across landmines?)

So I cannot find a police box to travel into the future, I'll just have to stand here and look.


The Galileo sat nav system will go ahead because Europe cannot depend upon U.S. or Russian military systems. It will cost 3.4 billion euros and private companies would not contribute towards it. So it all comes out of our taxes. It is being promoted by the European Community transport ministers because it will be a cornerstone of road pricing from 2012. They will know where your vehicle is at any time. Good for tax and licence purposes.

It will have beneficial spin offs including navigation, national and vehicle security. Sat navs are becoming as necessary a part of people's lives as the mobile phone has become. It will not be long before people forget how to read a paper map, six figure grid ref, take a compass bearing ...

... read a direction sign!

Like the phone boxes have disappeared, we will be rid of all the advance direction signs that cost millions of pounds to maintain. We will cut the clutter to just show mandatory and warning signs, reducing the risk of vehicles hitting the posts that hold up the huge hoardings that direct people to places (close or in the same direction) that they want to go and the lighting that goes with it.

It will happen in the next ten years and you don't need a TARDIS to see it coming.

Book Up

My dad was a keen gardener and folk would ask his advice and where he had learnt it all. He would reply that he learnt from books and magazines. Considering the education he never had, everything he read was a major task. But he loved gardening so much that he read everything he could and tried it all out for himself.


The other day I mentioned the book The DHTML Companion By Robert J Mudry. I borrowed it from the library and found it so useful I had to buy a copy for constant reference. I have covered it, highlighted passages in most pages with multicoloured pencils, anotated margins and there are bookmarks and tags on a number of chapters. The phrase "well thumbed" hardly does it justice.

The only books I use more often are the O'Reilly Pocket Reference series, HTML, by Jennifer Niederst, JavaScript by David Flanagan, and CSS by Eric A Meyer. You could probably download all the information from the web for free but you would spend more on editing and printing than these gems cost.

I have read most of the other books on HTML, JavaScript and CSS in the local libraries and will even re-read them from time to time. I bought a few from car boot sales but they are generally consigned to the loft now. They all seem to cover the same basic ground quite adequately. Well enough to get me started.

In case you didn't notice, that last paragraph is what is called "damning with feint praise".

A book that I don't own is Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug. It made a deep impression upon me and altered the way I manage LPMCC.net. I added breadcrumbs, use card index type directories and forever look for ways to improve and extend navigation and usability. Based on the paper form used as an example in Steve's book, every single page of LPMCC.net has exhaustive documentation. It is part of the page itself and every page keeps its own record! If you want to see it press Alt+W.

Breaking with Convention

Yesterday I borrowed Teach Yourself Blogging by Nat McBride and Jamie Cason from Wigston Library ... what else would you expect a geek to do?

I found that this blog is upside down. Hello Australia. It seems that the convention is to put the most recent material at the top of the page. Well, it is best to learn the conventions and understand the reasons for them before breaking them. The idea is that readers get straight to the latest additions. Sensible to not need to wade through all the old drivel.

I want this blog to be easily read by people who do not know the 'conventions'. They read the entry from the top down and then, if they want to read the next entry, it will appear where they expect it, straight after and underneath.

To help frequent readers who want today's gems of wit and wisdom, when the page opens it scrolls instantly to the start of the latest addition. Scroll up a line or two for a reminder of where the last entry left off. Click the new title to go up to where there is a conventional chronological content table.

And another thing.

There is also supposed to be a blogroll (I didn't know either - here is an explanation) A blogroll is a list of links to other peoples blogs and webpages. It is what makes blogging ... er ... blogging. Now we both know. Blogrolls also have a convention; they should be a list at the right of the page. Oops.

All my links for navigation and, recently, people go on the left of the page as identifiable buttons.

I drew up a nifty bit of JavaScript that finds all the hyperlinks contained in the page content (the area you are reading at this very moment) and repeats them as menu type buttons below the navigation and people buttons on the (sorry) left.

I hope you can cope with all this bohemian disregard for convention.

"I cannot see it!" you cry. Well, no. In the process of writing the script (and testing it for once) I realised all my in-line content links (the links usually underlined in the text) lack consistency and structure. Before I can release this bit of wizardry on the WorldWideWeb I need to go back through six hundred pages of content and make sure all of these links are suitable.

You will know I have finished that minor tidy-up when the blogroll appears on the ... er ... left.

But before then I really should complete indexing all the people mentioned on LPMCC.net so their lawyers can serve writs.


Why do I want this blog to read 'normally'? Because one day it will deliver chronological episodes of my life. You knew there had to be a drawback, didn't you!

Men Can't Multi Task

Yesterday evening was our last-Wednesday-of-the-month virtual club night brought to us free by Skype. It is the one evening when we can be sure that someone will be sitting at their computer waiting to be called.

Skype nights are one of those rare things that seem to have lots of benefits with no drawbacks that I can think of. The program is free to download and free to use. It works faultlessly through installation, setting up and testing. The calls are instant, clear and stable.

The Skype people are based in Luxembourg, not West Coast USA. The company was taken over by PayPal the other year but because Skype don't find ways to screw their clients for dollars the business model did not find favour with PayPals bean counters. It was recently sold on to Google who seem to have a much more open approach to software, the internet and life in general. No doubt expecting future revenue by some other means such as advertising. In the meantime, it is still free and the great majority of users only make Skype to Skype calls between computers.

Skype Night is operated as a conference call when one of several regulars makes calls to anyone who is on-line at the time. With the latest computers and software we can call up to eleven people at one time. Imagine the bedlam if we had that number on the line! There are two reasons we don't panic.

  1. There are frequently only three or four of us on-line. Friends drift in and out during the evening, just like any club night.
  2. We are mostly blokes (Well, I'm mostly bloke, can't speak for the others) so we don't all speak at once. Put it another way - Men Can't Multi Talk.

That is why I like Skype Night. I can sit and sip my drink and just listen to the chat between old pals, like we used to at the Rocket, or the Cricketers, or in the bar at a Rally. When I feel the need I can butt in with my ha'pen'orth. Much of the time I just sit and chuckle at the banter. It worked week after week and year after year for so long. It still works because the people involved are the same kids, they just wear older bodies.

Maybe you don't think you are eligible. I'll put it straight. If you are reading this you are welcome.

Half Cocked

Last month I rashly promised to deliver a set of buttons over on the left below the main menu system and index to people. It is to deliver easy-to-find versions of the links that appear within the content text of the page. On 'real' blogs it's called a Blogroll (and is conventionally placed on the right of the page). My rashness was in promising that it would not appear until I had structured and improved the links so that they are suitable for buttons.

As usual I couldn't wait until I had completed all the graft involved in checking hundreds of pages. The blogroll should be there as you read this. If there is a link in the text it will appear as a button in a set called 'Links'. It is another stage in the process of adapting the website so I don't make you think.

Steve Krug has made me into a compulsive hyperlinker which could be rhyming slang for stinker.

Random Links

I knew that I would need to de-bug the blogroll that I rushed onto the page in a fit of mad enthusiasm. It has thrown up a real puzzle. The list of links are collected from the page content and turned into a set of 'menu' type buttons on the left of the page. Every so often they include spurious links that are not in the content. I cannot figure out where they come from. A clue is that they usually include Dropping It. This page has that in the links because I just put it here.

That is the one link that appears most and I spent a long time looking for it in the pages the first few times it showed up. Waste of time of course. It is being picked up from some of the fancy-pants Java-ry Pokery that I indulge in. (They can't touch you for it.)

Any-road-up, in the meantime I considered dropping the random link in the main menu. You know the one, it's just under Documentation and changes it's name (at random!) but always has the Yes, its a DICE. Now you know. dice icon. I put that link in there for anyone suicidal enough to want to play Russian Roulette with the 600 plus pages on LPMCC.net. What a horrible way to go! I bet if you click it now you end up at a page you never saw before. But knowing my luck it will probably be Dropping It!

Information Loopy

I was feeling quite smug when Broadband Choices reported that a Survey of ISPs put PlusNet at the top. I had that 'told you so' feeling when the report stated that the PlusNet call centre is UK based. I use their on-line help on the rare occasions it has been needed and rate it as excellent.

We denigrate call centres that are located outside of the UK on the basis that the people do not understand 'where we are coming from' in any senses of the phrase. There can also be extreme difficulties cutting through foreign accents, particularly for old bikers like me who are getting a bit Mutt'n'Jeff.

Today I wanted to find the current call costs for using my BT private line. Easy, look on the website.

It is not the easiest thing to bore down to the data through the BT website, but by dint of experience, persistence and intelligence I found the page I needed within a few minutes.

Almost all the information I need was right there on the page. All it required was a quiet half hour to read through, cross-refer, filter, note on a piece of paper and check. A prime example of bamboozling the customer.

I decided to check my results using the 0800 helpline.

I waited patiently on my pulse dial telephone while they went through several recorded announcements, then "If you want ... press one ... " until the phone eventually rang a human being.

The man on the line had a strong Asian accent and spoke with quaint phraseology. But the information he provided was clear, precise and efficient. It clarified several things I still cannot find on the website and provided some further useful information I didn't think to ask.

Now I am less cock-a-hoop about the usefulness of LPMCC.net and the simplicity of navigating to the information you want.

I hope that I have avoided false promises offered by links that say CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD when what they really mean is click here to see a page that sells you something else and has another CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD link that does the same ad infinitum.

Or the circular link that says CONTACT that takes you to the FAQ file with things like "If it isn't working check your computer is switched on at the plug" and right at the bottom is a link that says "Did this page help?" and then takes you back, eventually, to the page you started from.

If you find LPMCC.net as frustrating as I find other people's websites, please CONTACT ME and tell me.

Ex Machina

The other month as we were driving somewhere with my beloved mother-in-law, Rachel mentioned that it would soon be time to look for a replacement car.

"Would you have another Renault Scenic?" asked Mo-In-Lo.
"I want to look at alternatives," replied Rachel carefully.
"This car is alright, isn't it?" continued Mo-In-Lo.
"I don't want to say just now," insisted Rachel.

We have had problems with the Scenic. It is a design from the people who brought us the Espace, the car that could not be driven if there was the slightest chance of heavy rain unless you don't mind a hydraulic lock and bent conrods and paying for the pleasure. With the Scenic they forgot about the car rolling back so they put in an electric parking brake. I thought parking brakes had to be mechanically activated. The Scenic also had a habit of stopping for no reason. Give it a minute and it would act all innocent and restart. The auto gearbox still hangs onto first gear despite threats to its testimonials. No, not kickdown but we wish it had kick-up. And it is too easy to lock the car and walk away with the motor still running.

The problems have been exacerbated by garage mechanics who have an endearing way with ladies.

"Leave it to us, Luv. (Don't you worry your pretty little head, leave it to the MEN)"

They are then totally unable to find the problem and write it off as being that part of the lunar cycle.

Do all garage mechanics have the same outlook? When the missus took the car in and said the front nearside brake was squeaking she got the same response. "It won't be the brakes, Luv."

Sure enough when she collected it, it was plain from the bill.

Labour and oil for seat springs £1.95 + VAT

... and then underneath ...

Disc, caliper, pads, fluids and labour £367.58 + VAT

Luckily the oil did stop the 'seat' squeaking.

It isn't just the garage mechanic. The plumber did it to her as well. Explained all the technical specification of the new boiler to me, then turned to Rachel and added "... and it's white."

Just for the record: Rachel is a qualified engineer, an experienced jet engine technician and a practical motorcyclist. I can imagine her assuring the flight crew of a Tornado "Its OK, I knitted it a WHITE cosy"

From experience she knows that you don't tempt fate by saying "This car is a load of rubbish" on the outward journey. These days cars have anti-theft devices that set off a klaxon if they hear breaking glass. There is likely to be a function within the controlling central process unit that also overhears criticism and switches the car into truculent mood.

Think about it. Did you never have a digital watch that stopped at two hours past the expiry of the guarantee?

The computer I bought three years ago from Carrera was even cleverer than that! The DVD drive gave up just days before the guarantee expired. Ah, got them on this one. I phoned and they promised a replacement after Christmas if I'd care to call back. After Christmas no-one wanted to take my call. Why? The company had folded. Now that was clever!

Since then the beast has slowly and expensively died. Keeping it pegging on has cost more than a new computer would have cost.

So last week we looked for a new computer on-line. We found a reasonable spec machine at a fair price and put in the order.

There are things called 'interrupts' that the CPU is involved with. It is when it pauses doing what you ask it to do and checks the post, looks out of the window to see if it needs its wellies and makes sure the cat hasn't brought another bird in. Or the computer equivalent of those things.

In one of those interrupts it must have overheard, like you might at work if the boss was advertising your job.

This blog is now written on a spare computer until the new one arrives.

Missing the Point

I was at one of those dumb-ass self-improvement sessions. Formed groups, wrote on big sheets of paper, learned to speak in corporate buzz phrases and came away complaining about the cheap lunch.

Inevitably the old chestnuts were rethreaded and thrashed about, including the following test of perception. Press the button and read the phrase.

Now write down what it said. The tutor asked someone in the group to read what they had written and the others in the room to raise their hand if they agreed. Big forest of hands.

"Has anyone written something different?"

A few hesitant waves. Smartark me wafted cobwebs from the ceiling.

He asked a quiet little woman what she had written.

"Is worth two in the bush" she replied surprisingly.

Then it was my turn and I could don my customary smug smirk and reveal to the adoring crowd just what an old nerd I am under this handsome exterior. The word 'the' is repeated on consecutive lines.

But ...

If you think about it, who the hell is interested if there is a typo? My missus speed reads, gets the story, understands the gist of the meaning, applies the learning and moves on. I, on the other hand, struggle through a book for weeks, checking back, re-reading, cross referencing. At the end I can tell you where all the spelling mistakes are, how bad the writer is at punctuation, where he contradicts himself ... but I don't have a clue what the story is about. (Three bears with bowls of hot cereal, I think.)

In fact, the mixed word paragraph that is circulated on the web shows that people do not need their reading material to be spelled perfectly in order to be able to understand it. When it is jumbled up I can actually read it more quickly because I stop looking for the errors and start looking for the meaning. Click the button below and read this again.

When it comes to understanding what someone means you need to filter out the errors without being sidetracked by them. It is worth two in the bush! It may make an assumption. It may be a cliché. It is certainly lateral thinking.

One of the few times I need to get the spelling, syntax and punctuation perfect is for writing the markup and scripts of LPMCC.net pages. The page content still has the old typos that you need to cope with. The human brain handles mistakes fine and does not succumb so easily to 'garbage in, garbage out' (GIGO) problems that befuddle computers.

Vélib'

This evening the BBC ran an interesting report by Emma-Jane Kirby about the Paris based Vélib' cycle hire system. It is by no means the first such scheme. Others have been plagued by thefts of the bikes. This scheme hopes to overcome the problem by only releasing the bikes when it has your credit card details by the investicles. Endearingly optimistic, Emma-Jane noted in her TV report that the bikes are less likely to be stolen because of their heavy and ugly design. Perhaps that is where the supermarkets have been going wrong all this time. Should they make their shopping trollies less attractive?

For a proper English/US explanation of how the Vélib' system works take a look at the description by Polly-Vous Francais. You will also find out just how good a real blog can be!

How To Kill A Biker (1)

I always wanted to run a website called How-To-Kill-A-Biker dot com

I haven't turned homicidal towards my old mates, it is just that, from the perspective of accident investigation and long and bitter experience, it often seems that motorcyclists don't know how it is done yet far too many other road users seem only too well practiced in the art.

In case the penny hasn't dropped, it would be for motorcycle riders to warn them about the simple tricks that can be played on them with fatal consequences. One of the reasons I have never created the website is that, years ago, when I wrote a tongue-in-cheek series for Megaphone about how to tune up and ride a motorbike Dave Smith pointed out the danger that someone would not realise it was sarcasm and buffoonery and get themselves badly injured trying it out. So, in this climate of speculative litigation, I have desisted from what may be considered to be conspiracy to commit murder. Shame really.

This was the 1976 Megaphone series:

So here is the first way to spike a biker. Very simple. Don't use the handbrake at junctions.

The parking brake or hand brake is something that is now widely disregarded by motorists. If you don't believe me, why do you think that the car in front at traffic signals has his high-level brake light shining into your visor? Because he has one foot on the foot brake, one foot on the clutch and one hand on his dick.

A lot of accidents involving motorcyclists occur at junctions when another road user pulls out. At this point I need to emphasise that by junctions I mean road junctions, garage exits, supermarket access, driveways, field gates and anywhere that riders are surprised when a vehicle emerges into their path.

If there is the slightest incline from the side into the road, and there usually is for drainage purposes, then in that moment when the driver anticipates that the rider is about to pass, they lift their foot from the brake and immediately roll out into the road.

Non cogito, ergo non sum.

Good Riddance

Day three of replacing the old computer with the brand spanking new PC. I am amazed at just how much needs tweaking to get it to work. All the data has transferred (eventually) following repeated crashes by the departing computer.

I did hope that once I removed the peripherals (printer, scanner, card reader, TV dongle, webcam) the unwanted applications, removed boxes of data, emptied the trash, checked and defragmented the hard drive, blew all the fluff out of the tower, reseated all of the terminals, that the old dog would be back on form - denying that it ever needed to be replaced. It is comforting to know that our new pup was money well spent: the old dog is worse than ever and falls into the blue screen of death in the middle of the lightest task.

Well, we all get old.

The problem is that the hardware drivers and application software evolved into its present condition over the past several years and trying to replicate that evolution on the new pup is proving difficult. I am repeating a lot of the past trial and error that probably busted the old dog. That is one of the differences between a gung-ho amateur and a professional (the other is the cost!) I never document what I do to get things to work!

For example, Windows Media Player wants to be the default player for every file type but will not do it unless codecs are installed. Thanks to XPcodecpack that is achievable and free. It was just a case of remembering how I solved it years ago. And memory not being ... what was I telling you about?

Essential Software

Here is a list of the programs that are installed on the new computer. These are the ones I could never live without.

  • AVG Free anti-virus: This programm gets excellent reviews whenever anti-virus software is tested. You cannot beat it for value because it is free. I especially like it because it updates silently and efficiently without nagging. In the past I have paid good money to find the product no longer supported until I pay more money for the latest annual upgrade. I don't appreciate being held for ransom. Other commercial antivirus takes liberties with your system and can slow your computer to a crawl.
  • EditPad Lite text editor: LPMCC.net is simply text files of HTML, JavaScript and Cascading Style Sheets. Notepad that comes with Windows works fine but EditPad makes editing hundreds of files a doddle and a pleasure. There are more specialist HTML editors but EditPad provides the powerful editing features as simply as possible. The Lite version is free.
  • Firefox with the FireFTP extension: To put the text files onto the LPMCC.net server requires File Transfer Protocol. The Firefox add-on is the smoothest system I have found so far. Did I mention it is free?
  • Multiren and Agent Ransack: These are two utilities that simply put a line in the right click context menu in Windows Explorer (The file listing screen that shows My Documents and My Computer). Multiren is for bulk renaming of files. I need all LPMCC.net files to be lower case and Multiren does that instantly. It is also very useful for giving downloaded digital photos sensible names and numbers. Agent Ransack is a search program that is quicker, more powerful and easier to use than Windows Search. Best of all it will search for code inside HTML files. Both free.
  • AutoHotKeys macro programming: With hundreds of files and lots of lists there are times when I need to repeat complex commands. Trying to train my fingers to repeat a set of keystrokes is asking for trouble; as soon as I get good at it I lose concentration and bugger up no end of stuff. AutoHotKey is a sophisticated programming system that allows me to set a macro and even have it loop n times. I am still just scratching the surface of this programming system but it saves me hours that are better spent drinking. Amazingly free.
  • ATnotes reminders: All this mucking about with computers I could miss something important like getting the kids to a lesson or opening time. I don't need a major appointments managing system so ATnotes is ideal and simple enough to be useful. The original developer no longer supports this treasure but it is still available out there ... free.
  • Skype voip: Since Derek Foster put us onto this several Xmases ago it has become invaluable for Skype Night conference calls. I now have a Skype Out account for really cheap phone calls all over the world. The program and Skype to Skype calls are still free.
  • Trillian chat client: The girls are MSN addicts but for me Trillian does it all - connects to MSN, AOL, Yahoo and ICU messenger systems in one simple panel. I can listen for friends on all frequencies for nothing.

All those applications and utilities are effectively free or open-source. They may not be earth-shattering individually but together they keep alive my faith that computers are a 'good thing' and not dedicated to enslaving the world's money and power into corporate control.

Check the Date

Many years ago several club members turned out to Stanford Hall to assist the VOC with their spring clean of the motorcycles that used to be on display there. When we arrived at the gate there was an old zinc bath of disinfectant, a yard brush and a sign that announced SWINE VASICULAR DISEASE - PLEASE WASH YOUR BOOTS AND TYRES BEFORE ENTERING. We dutifully obeyed with liberal application of the smelly liquid.

When we arrived at the Hall we were asked if we had followed the instructions at the gate and we assured them that we had been most careful and conscientious.

"Well, April Fool!" was the response and we had to join in the laughter.

These days there are so many unbelievable things happening in the world that I find myself checking the publication date to see if it is really a joke. Regretably it never is. The world has gone stark raving bonkers. Maybe we should have a First Of October Logical Day. But no-one would believe it after they checked the initials.

Keeping Things in Proportion

Today I checked through the thumbnail pictures that are used to catalogue the photographs on LPMCC.net.

These days the main photos are 500 pixels wide by 375 pixels high. This gives a fairly common proportion of 4:3 the same as 640 x 480, 800 x 600 (the screen size that LPMCC.net is still designed for) 1280 x 960 and 1400 x 1050 which are some possible screen sizes. Landscape photos are usually close to these proportions. The associated thumbnails are 125 x 94 which is tiny but means they can be opened and displayed pretty quickly.

Early on I favoured a slightly flatter ratio of 500 x 350 for the photos and 125 x 88 for thumbnails with no really good reason.

When I put the rolling thumbnails on the gallery index pages and the collage in the Home Page I rounded all the sizes to 125 x 94 but today I realised that they could be anything from 82 to 98 high. Because I define the thumbnail size with CSS they fit together perfectly but some are stretched and some compressed; depending on the original proportions you could either look anorexic or obese. It also takes longer to display a picture that is resized.

A check of the 953 thumbnails gave an average height of 89.25 pixels. I have adjusted the 'standard' dimensions to 125 x 89 so that there is a roughly equal chance of being stretched or compressed. The thumbnails that were at the extremes of the range have been recreated to 125 x 94 and as time goes on and I have nothing better to do (ho-hum) I will bring all the thumbnails to that size and keep pushing up the display proportions as the average increases.

I hope you don't think I measure all those thumbnails by hand! There is a page in the administration section that displays thumbnails and then measures the heights, telling me which ones need adjusting.

Following a Star

Today at just gone 4pm I received a Star Rating for the past members list. Not the usual flattery but a meagre one star. What made it really valuable was the comment that came with it.

Start of quotation Firefox page rendering wrong; you're using IE page rendering which is non standard. End of quotation

 

Sure enough the list was not appearing in Firefox. An error message gave me a clue about where it was falling over. I jumped to the conclusion that it was a difference between the way Firefox and Internet Explorer JavaScript works with DOM nodes. I chased up that blind alley for half an hour before I narrowed the problem down to the difference between the way Firefox and IE count nodes. To make sure they don't count the space between tags I broke the tags with linebreaks in the middle of the tag as follows.

<div id=fr><div
class=memline><span
class=contac></span><span
class=member style=left:22px;><span><span
class=year style=left:135px;></span><span
class=year style=left:144px;></span><span
class=year style=left:153px;></span><span
class=year style=left:162px;></span></div></div>

Once I'd cracked that problem it didn't take a lot longer to remember that Firefox places elements with style position:relative; differently from IE. To make the appearance consistent I needed to use position:absolute; and include the left position in the tags.

The firefox version must have ceased working back in July 2007 when I introduced a faster way to display the member lists from the quasi-database that store the details. Thank heavens someone took the time to let me know I'd mucked up.

The irritating thing was that I spent two hours finding a solution I have been through before. I just had to learn it all over again the hard way.

Quasi Database

Eventually I will need to get to grips with mySQL database if for no other reason than it can accept data from users. After all, I am trying to make LPMCC.net interactive. At the moment, any user input that needs to be remembered is either emailed to me, saved as a cookie or made into a URL that can be saved in 'Favorites'. That latter method is the one used to save the badge list chosen to decorate your rally badge T‑shirt. Here is an example of my badge list. Just take a look at the address line!

There are disadvantages with server side scripting including making something simple and small into big and complex. For useability it is hard to beat data contained in a JavaScript array. Here is a rough idea of how I use it on LPMCC.net

First I put the data into the array as follows.

var data_db = ["0 Make|1 Capacity|2 Year",
"Mobylette|50|1961",
"Honda|125|1963",
"AJS|500|1969",
"Matchless|350|1971",
"Norton|750|1973",
"Triumph|730|1976",
"NVT|175|1979",
"Honda|125|1984",
"Triumph|750|1987"];

It isn't necessary to use the first entry in the array as the key but I do it to help me recall what goes where. Note that in every string entry the 'fields' are subdivided by the bar character | (shift+ key left of Z). The bar is chosen because it never occurs within the fields. This is how the data is read by JavaScript, starting at the second line.

for (var x = 1; x < data_db.length; x++) {

data_field = data_db[x].split("|");

// data_field[0] is now the make
// data_field[1] is now the capacity
// data_field[2] is now the year

document.writeln("<p>In "
+ data_field[2]
+ " I had a "
+ data_field[1]
+ "cc "
+ data_field[0]
+ ".</p>");
}

And here it is for real.

From this point on it is just a case of applying the same principles to, for example, search through data for the entry you want to match, and then either write it into a page before it finishes opening, or insert it into an IDentified element.

There are sixteen quasi databases used on LPMCC.net. The beauty of keeping the information in databases is that it only needs to be updated in one file and can then be used in many different forms in lots of places. With a bit of thought they can even be used to create graphs. Take a look at the Statistics page to see how graphs and figures are drawn from visit_db, menu_db, newstuff_db and history_db, people_db and members_db.

On Target

This month is looking good for the number of visitors to LPMCC.net. If the hit-rate stays this high it will break all the records. Getting people to the website is not easy so, once they are in, LPMCC.net must hold on to them.

Most important is interesting content. LPMCC.net is very much a community website aimed at past members of the Leicester Phoenix MCC and their friends from other clubs, especially the ones we met at rallies. There are a dedicated band of correspondents keeping the material fresh and interesting so I have little worries in that department. I have the job of bringing the content to your attention and making it easy to find.

I never underestimate the Foz Spot in bringing people back to LPMCC.net. The joke scouts provide an unending supply of comical pieces that we haven't heard before ... or at least ... that we enjoy hearing again.

If you are new to LPMCC.net you may wonder why the spot is so called: It is a tribute to arch clown Keith Fosberry who kept the club in stitches in the early days and continued supplying the website until his untimely death. The belly laughs are now provided by his son, Foz Jnr and a host of people with finely tuned funnybones. You can catch up with past Foz Spots in the Foz Annuals (in the News Section).

Once a visitor is brought to LPMCC.net it is foolish to send them off to another website too quickly. There is plenty to explore on LPMCC.net but some links do go to other sites. Therefore I control the navigation so that new pages on LPMCC.net are opened in your current browser window but links to places off LPMCC.net are opened in a new browser window. That way, when you close the off-site window, your source LPMCC.net page is still there waiting to carry on where you left off.

The new browser window that opens is not just any window. If you open another page from LPMCC.net it opens in the same new window. It does that because the new window is a named target. It would be nice to specify open in "target=_tab" but that is not an option yet. (You are using a tabbed browser by now aren't you?)

To make sure you have an idea where the new page is going to open I keep the usual hand pointer for LPMCC.net links and a custom pointer for links off-site.

There is a slight difference between the way Firefox and Internet Exporer apply custom cursors. To make it work in both it is necessary to use tandem CSS definitions as follows.


style="cursor:url(newin.gif),auto;
cursor:url(newin.ani);"

The first one is for Firefox and the second for IE and they need to be in that order. Regretably animated GIF files don't yet work in Firefox but on the plus side you can control where the registration point of the cursor is in Firefox. Best to keep it as defualt top-left unless you can save proper CURsor and ANImated cursor files with embedded registration where you want IE to place it.

Putting that style definition into every link with a new window target would take a lot of time and typing. You know me. Bone idle. So I do it with one of those onload JavaScript functions - actually the same loop that checks that none of the links are back to the same page. This is what it would look like:


var links = document.getElementsByTagName("A");
for (var x = 0; x < links.length; x++) {
 if (links[x].target == "newin") {
  if (document.all) {
   links[x].style.cursor="url(newin.ani)";
   } else {
   links[x].style.cursor="url(newin.gif),auto";
   }
  }
 }

Any-road-up, another little bit of feedback information to help you find your way about ... or away from ... LPMCC.net!

Mick Barr

I was saddened to hear that Mick Barr has died after battling cancer and chronic lung disease. Mick was a member in the 1980s but I never met him, having resisted the lure of BMW motorcycle ownership.

Mick's reputation as a BMW mechanic became legendary while he worked at keeping Leicestershire Police riders on the road. He built on that reputation when he opened a shop on Welford Road and then a BMW dealership in Evington.

I hope that people who knew Mick well will send a few characteristic anecdotes that will keep his memory bright for the many friends he made.

Blame Google

I blame Google for an epidemic of lost sleep suffered by millions of geeks. Not because of its search engine, pervasive as it may be. It is because of the Google developer tools.

I admit that Google Maps is useful. LPMCC.net no longer needs to use maps scanned from an old road atlas and hope we don't get a writ from the copyright holder. The Google map that is displayed on the Calendar page is seamlessly joined to the whole world. You can follow a route all the way from Lee Circle (10am Sunday) to New York the long way round. You don't even need a full tank of petrol.

Google is noted for its minimalist approach to search engine home pages, known as Classic Google. It is possible to create a busier environment with news feeds, horoscopes, weather forcasts and a bewildering range of gadgets. This is called iGoogle. LPMCC.net jumped at the chance to create a gadget that indicates the date of Easter Sunday. It aids planning to be able to find when Easter will fall further ahead than the next diary.

Google has recently added developer tools that allow a custom theme to be created for iGoogle. Last night I burned the midnight oil to try out the following early ideas.

A bright and simple theme based on the 1960/70s club quartered badge.

A panorama overlooking the Big End Rally site.

To be part of the Big End Rally you can add the theme that takes you there whenever you open Google.

If these themes introduce you to the idea of iGoogle for the first time, don't forget to add the LPMCC.net newsfeed. Add to Google

Search Me

There is now so much on LPMCC.net that the search box provided by FreeFind is in constant use. FreeFind send me reports of the search terms used and when they are entered. Judging by the typos and times, we have a fair few drunken surfing sessions going on out there. Cheers and all the best!

If you are looking for anything in particular on LPMCC.net and the search box doesn't find it then there is a good chance it ain't there ... yet. Not until you write it and send it in.

Where Next?

April was another record month for LPMCC.net with the highest ever number of visitors taking the total over 125,000. Almost 8,000 visitors were undoubtedly drawn to LPMCC.net by interesting, fresh and high quality content. Since the beginning of the year eighty new pages have been added to LPMCC.net, the vast majority in the Rallies section. Thanks to Les Hobbs, Ted Trett, Mick Ayriss and Dave Cooper for this avalanche of material that is drawing people to the website. Don't leave it all to them! This should be a positive feedback loop: more people reading LPMCC.net - more contributors - and with more new content LPMCC.net will attract more visitors. Add a few words to an existing page for a start. Don't worry about typos; I'll take yours out and add my own! Photos are always terrifically interesting because who knows who you captured in the background! Scanned rally badges are a connection to the other bums you caroused with.

If you visit LPMCC.net regularly you may have spotted that the strap line at the top has changed. It now welcomes friends of the Leicester Phoenix MCC, and that, of course, includes you. With so many visitors to the website each month I needed to recognise that the past club members now form a minority. Maybe the website needs to reconsider its objectives and character. We have just about satisfied the enthusiasm for club reunions that filled the years from 2002 through 2006. We are now back in touch with our old friends to recall the past. So many past members are still active in motorcycling (riding, fettling, watching, talking) that there is more and more current material appearing on LPMCC.net.

At the rate that new material arrives to be put on LPMCC.net I don't get much time to write anything new. Also I am more remote from current motorcycle trends than I have ever been. The easy solution is to link to other websites that provide the best content in other areas. Cernunnos have a great Rally Calendar, the BMF website covers legislation issues. Let me know which websites are best for road tests, training information, road directions, sports coverage.

Is there a niche that you think LPMCC.net (or someone) should cover? We are still looking for a website that lists Continental Rallies. I think the pukka Leicester Phoenix MCC website could cover that, because the members are still directly engaged in the circuit.

C'mon, gimme your thoughts. Where next?

Load Off My Mind

Why make something simple when, with a bit of carelessness you can make it blinking complicated?

That's gonna be my epitaph. This week I tried to regain control over everything that happens when LPMCC.net pages open. Like Topsy "It just growed".

As the page opens there are JavaScript functions that read lists of data that I call quasi-databases and writes them into the page as standard menus and reports. Once the page has opened the next set of functions embellish what is there. These are the onLoad events. They are triggered from the <body onLoad="init()"> tag. The reason I do that (rather than using window.onload=init; ) is that not all of the pages use the init() function. There are pages that are just too big for all the start-up functions to operate within a reasonable time.

The init() function is contained in the common.js JavaScript file that all pages load. Once the website visitor has it in his cache from one page, there is no need to download it again. The function is a container that calls other functions that set up the page as follows.

  1. centerContent() puts the content panel into roughly the middle of the whitespace if your screen is bigger than 800px X 600px.
  2. wiseLinks() disables and highlights any link on the page that is back to the same page.
  3. searchFinder() is a generic function to look for information passed by a query (?) in the URL.
  4. showTimer() checks if there is hidden content that need to be displayed. Useful for showing and hiding content by date.
  5. breadCrumb() displays the path of the current page over the top of the content title.
  6. primeNames() checks for past club member names in the content, double underlines them and adds a mini profile pop up.
  7. overX() finds the text that needs to be crossed out and puts in the correction.
  8. localInit() is a lead on to the onLoad events that are needed by specific sections of the website.

In effect the localInit() daisy chains another set of start-up functions at the end of the general site wide functions. This section function is in the section file standard.js. It is often almost empty.

The reason it is not entirely empty is that it always calls another function called pageInit(). You can probably guess that this runs more start-up scripts and is located on individual pages.

Not all pages have a pageInit() in them so calling it could cause an error. Therefore all the localInit() functions are as follows.

function localInit() {
try { pageInit() } catch (e) {;}
}

The try {statements} catch (argument) {statements} bit is a JavaScript 1.5 exception handling mechanism. If the first statements don't work then the second (null in our case) are invoked.

At the end of the onLoad series of functions any loose end is gracefully closed.

Mapping It Out

Yesterday I began adding Google maps to appropriate pages of LPMCC.net. After adding maps to the Colombres Rally, Kurland Rally, Elephant Rally and Stella Alpina reports they looked much more complete. If you bought a book or magazine about rallies it would be sure to include a map to show you the location. The Rally Report Form now contains a location finder map so that correspondents can nail down where they are writing about. I just hope the lads who send the reports have a better idea where they were than I ever had!

Once the location has been established (by getting the crosshair sights over the spot) the appropriate starting scale can be chosen. There is also a choice of road map, aerial photo or a hybrid combining the satellite view with an overlay of the roads and names. The viewer can change map type, scale and location at will.

The technology would lend itself to providing information on present day rallies as well, at least for the rallies that are not held at a "secret" location. If someone wanted to start a Continental Rally List I thoroughly recommend using a Google map based system.

Reflected Glory

When Stan Taylor took the trouble to let me know that he found the Dragon pages on LPMCC.net while searching for Bryn Bras Castle, I jumped to the hasty conclusion that it had turned up on a trawl of Google. If so then Stan showed a lot of dedication because LPMCC.net does not appear until the 71st place in the search. On the other hand, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia has an entry in eighth place. It is only a short bit about the recent history but near the bottom it mentions that the castle was the location for the first Dragon Rally ... and there is a link to another Wikipedia entry for the Dragon!

The Wikipedia article, created by Onepot, paraphrases the character of the Dragon Rally perfectly. What makes it especially good are the links at the bottom that go to LPMCC.net

That is just the kind of thing that is driving traffic to North Wales this website!

Climate Change

Climate change is now accepted. You only need to think back to the snow, frosts and fog at the Elephant and Dragon Rallies of the '60s and early '70s compared to the recent mild winters. It is also fairly certain that it is caused by your gas-guzzling moped. The task ahead is to predict the effects and innovate solutions. So far the methods of bringing the planet under control consist of thinking of ways we can pay the bad guys to change from their wholesale pollution to ... er ... doing it in secret. In the meantime, while they try to figure out how much and how fast the climate will change I can only hope the spin-off will be better weather prediction.

Over the past month we have been watching the weather forecast for a spot in Blighty called Peterborough. The Met Office and the BBC weather services are the usual sources. I favour AccuWeather because it is prepared to stick its neck out further and usually trumps everyone else. That is why it is their forecast on the Calendar page. Over the past month the prognosis for the weekend of the BMF Show has been thunderstorms, sunshine, rain, fine, showers.

I just hope that the climate scientists aren't depending on the same bit of damp seaweed and the rheumatism of straw sucking yokels.

Extreme Site

This week I visited the primary school where I helped set up a website when my kids were pupils. They needed a hand moving the server location.

During the process I needed to recall the syntax for file transfer protocol using Internet Explorer. No, it's not something I have committed to memeory, not that I can remember anyway. It is documented on LPMCC.net so I took a look from the school computer.

What a shock! There is a net nanny program on the school system to protect the kids from naughty stuff and it flashed up "Extreme Content, please wait for the Thought Police" or something similar.

I blame the Foz Spot, just the sort of stuff to corrupt minors. Luckily, typing in the exact URL of the page I needed worked OK and I was out of the school before I was apprehended and sent to the headmaster for a whacking.

Graph Spree

This month there were more than 8,000 visitors to LPMCC.net and the files provided from the server indicate that 7% of them come from non-English speaking countries. There is a good chance that many are not ex-pat members and friends. To assist their comprehension of the strange traditions of motorcycling and rallying I have added buttons that translate the page into various languages. This service is another fantastic tool provided by Google. But that's not all.

When I introduced the translation service it was announced in the News Update with a breakdown of where those 7% came from and the languages they probably speak. This was simply illustrated with a pie chart. After the news moves on the chart will still be available in the Statistics page. It is just above an older pie chart showing the proportion of pages in the different sections of LPMCC.net. Most of the graphs on the statistics page are drawn on the fly from website data held in quasi databases that are updated continuously. Simple Java-Scripty-Pokery. But I couldn't figure a way to create pie charts dynamically.

Google stepped in yet again. They have Google Charts API that takes your data encoded in a URL, converts it to a .PNG image file then delivers it back to the webpage. Fantastic. Not only effective and efficient but it blends into the style and colour scheme perfectly. Just take a look at the Page Distribution pie chart and tell me if you aren't impressed.

I cannot wait to see what Google introduce next month. I am pinning my hopes on Broadband Beer Delivery.

More of the Same

Last month I began to get itchy feet. Must have been the spring causing the sap to rise. I asked for suggestions (clean ones) about where LPMCC.net should be heading.

There was a resounding ... silence.

In May the stats showed another increase with 8,472 visitors voting with their mice. It must be down to the fresh content that so many dedicated people are delivering. It sure makes my job easy and I can indulge my desire to play with the website until I bust it.

Oh, yes. confession time. I was so delighted to add more Google maps to the pages of LPMCC.net that I inadvertantly bolloxed up the T‑shirt pages. If you found them ... er ... error-strewn over the past month then I apologise and they should be OK again now so get printing your rally badge T‑shirt.

Phone a Friend

A few years ago LPMCC.net used to pop-up a questionnaire to every visitor during September. In 2003 the questionnaire was well supported and I gained a very clear picture of the direction people expected LPMCC.net to take. It resulted in many improvements and changes to the website. If people took the trouble to tell me what they liked and disliked it was only fair to make thorough are swift use of that information to provide what they wanted.

The second year the results were much less useful. There were far fewer responses and there were no surprises or revelations.

Recently I have access to the server logs. They tell me a lot about numbers and paths through LPMCC.net, times and where people come from.

What the web stats do not tell me is the aspirations and frustrations of website visitors. There is no substitute for knowing what people feel about LPMCC.net. It is very easy to assume that because numbers are rising that things are hunky-dory.

This year is time for a return to the original type of survey, perhaps with a bit of sophistication to ensure the pop-up doesn't drive people away from the website. For example, a system that only invites the form to be filled in after the second web page has opened and then does not ask again this year. To be able to compare the results of a 2008 with the survey from five years back I estimate I will only need about 1% to be sampled so I shall probably pop-up the invite on an infrequent random basis.

If you suddenly get an invitation to participate in the survey, please give it a few minutes of your time. It really is random, useful and effective.

In the meantime, if you want to be proactive, you could beat the rush and fill in a survey right now. Thanks.

Testing Times

We laughed at the British Motorcycle Industry when all their development testing was carried out by their customers. These days it seems that everyone is recognising the effectiveness and value of such schemes.

The drugs industry, well known for making a profit from people's misery, are adopting a system of continuous feedback instead of costly programmes of double-blind field tests. They get the products to market earlier but it does mean that they need to continue to evaluate feedback almost indefinitely. Makes a nice change.

Similarly Google are rolling out their latest applications to millions of users rather than small groups of alpha and beta testers. Again they are claiming a quicker delivery of new developments and a more thorough testing. Should work so long as they react quickly when bugs are identified.

Here at LPMCC.net I have always taken the optimistic view that if anything is up with the website someone will take the trouble to tell me. That way I can foist half-baked ideas on an unsuspecting public and claim it is all in the name of faster development.

You will tell me when something is broken won't you?

Skype Nite*

I'm sure it doesn't need clarifying, but I will anyway:

Skype Nite, our virtual club nights, are open to anyone who wants to put their feet up at home but join in a light-hearted conversation with friends who share a similar background. It is based on past members of LPMCC but usually a fair proportion of participants are just friends and friends of friends (and cousins).

So far we have tended to be people with experience of motorcycling ... er ... in the 1960/70s. But don't take that to mean we are a load of old buffers. What it means is we ain't pre-teens speaking in SMS-ese. You will understand where we are coming from, what we are getting at and how we are doing it.

We don't spend hours dribbling down our pullovers about the good old days. Nor grumbling about kids/government/weather. Nor telling all the oldest jokes. We talk about things that interest you ... if you are there!

You don't need to be the life and soul of Skype Nite. You can just listen, chip in occasionally, wander off for another cold beer or smoke, turn in for bed (or work) at any time.

By participating you are not excluding anyone else. We can now include 24 people in conferences (which is what Skype Nite is) so we are very unlikely to have any capacity problems.

The technology is still free and bullet-proof. We have people running it on Linux, over dial-up and even without microphones (you can also type in messages). It just works.

To be included in Skype Nite all you need to do is install the software and let us know your ID so we can watch for you on-line and connect you.

Skype Nites are on the last Wednesday of every month (unless you are in the antipodes in which case they are the following Thursday morning!) They are regular but not too frequent, just like our bowels used to be.

In last week's News Update I hinted at a radical new feature this month. Well, here it is. We will include someone who is not (yet) on Skype!

Yes, I have given way to the Americanism.

Firefix

I don't expend a lot of effort to give LPMCC.net cross-browser support but make an exception for Firefox. It adheres to the standards and pushes technology.

When I caught sight of the approach of Firefox 3 I was pulled along by the excitement of making the Guinness Book of Records for the most downloads in 24 hours. Well the Leicester Phoenix MCC has a tradition to uphold.

I pledged support and waited with baited breath for the day - today - Tuesday 17 June 2008. Midnight they were still offering Firefox V2.0.0.14.

So, up with the lark and checked again while my ISP still gives free bandwidth. 6.30am, nothing.

Allowing for the 8 hour delay between British Something Time and Specific Time I took another look over lunchbreak. Nowt.

"As Mozilla is an American concern, the launch isn't expected to happen until this evening if you are in the UK."
Web User

I suppose that makes sense. As well as making a world record the idea is to have Download Parties and they would go better in the evening than over breakfast.

It would have helped if the people at Mozilla had been a bit more specific about which 24 hours of the 17th June they were talking about on a planet where a calendar day spans 48 hours. This is an industry that couldn't see the 21st century coming up at 60 minutes per hour.

Good job I didn't organise a download breakfast. I would have consumed an awful lot of cornflakes.

I bore my kids witless talking about missing the first contact with Telstar. I am glad I'm not still doomed to miss the milestones of technology even though I was getting worried for a few hours.

Posr Script: I downloaded and installed version 3 just after midnight on 18th and now I am finding that a lot of LPMCC.net misbehaves due to some obscure changes. Oh, bugger. So much for compatibility

A Foot in the Door

You may have heard all kinds of frightening stories about how your computer will result in your soul and, more importantly, your bank account falling into the hands of evil people. It is all true but you can delay the date by following a few tips.

Emails

RECOGNISE SPAM. You can often recognise spam because:

You don't recognise the person sending the email. Sometimes their name is "John Smith" or "David Brown". Be careful!

It has your name wrong in the 'To' address. Exception - When I send emails to everyone I put MY name (or one you will recognise) in the 'To' line and everyone else is blind copied which means their names are on the 'Bcc' line and will not be shown to anyone else.

You may not want to receive emails from Japan, Tiawan and many other countries. Their email addresses end in .jp, .tw etc. But many also use .com addresses.

The subject line could be something obviously undesireable. "Enlarge your organ", "Make her beg for more" and all kinds of investment scams, marketing offers, lottery jackpots. Because viagra is the basis of a lot of spam they will often try to trick antispam filters by calling it 'V1AGRA' or 'v i a g r a'. The permutations are endless and they try them all.

DON'T OPEN IT. Just delete it.

If you have Outlook Express it has the (default) option to preview the message. Turn this off by going to your in-box then going through View > Layout and untick 'Show preview pane'.

As soon as the message is displayed it may search for a (hidden-> <-graphic) file on the spammer's server and the server will link it to your email address. The spammer then knows he has a 'live one' on that address.

NEVER REPLY TO SPAM.

Once they realise you have a real email address they will sell it to every other spammer on the planet.

NEVER OPEN ATTACHMENTS. All kinds of lizards and snakes can be unleashed.

Malware can log your key presses to find your account details and passwords.

Trojan Horses can allow hackers to gain access to your computer as if it is on their desk and do things like storing child pornography. Explain that to a repair man and police officer.

Your computer could become a drone on a botnet and send its own spam or denial of service (DOS) messages to bring down major commercial or government computers. The ability of criminals to do this with millions of unsuspecting computers allows them to extort money from their targets.

Or it could 'just' be a virus that trashes your computer.

DON'T GET PHISHED.

Emails that claim to be from your bank, ISP, pension fund etc will warn you that someone has been meddling with your account and you need to check your details immediately or the account will be locked. If you follow the link it looks genuine - it really does. But it ain't who you think it is and when they ask for your details to be confimed they are saying "Open your wallet and say after me e e e e: Help Your Self!"

Some foreign gentleman may ask for your assistance in recovering millions of dollars by paying it into your bank account. You are unlikely to be scammed but it is surprising how many admit to falling for these tricks. That doesn't count the people too ashamed to admit it.

BE PROACTIVE. Do not add to the problem.

Put a sensible title in the Subject line of emails. If possible the subject line should paraphrase the nub of the message. Avoid making your message look like spam or it may be intercepted by the receiver's anti-spam software or even by their ISP. For example don't put "SPAM" or "VIAGRA" in the title and try to avoid them in the message content.

Do not forward virus warnings or other chain letters. Check them on UrbanLegends as most are hoax warnings perpetrated by people who want to choke the internet with junk and perpetuated by the gullible who do it for them. It is the equivalent of Corporal Jones running round shouting "Don't panic! Don't panic!" but not as funny.

If you want to forward an email that you receive to friends in your addressbook, do everyone a favour and put their adresses in the blind copy (Bcc) line. In Outlook Express you can show the Bcc line in a message by clicking View > All headers (in the message I said). Put your own address in the 'To' line or they may think it is spam.

If your message does not NEED to be in fancy text then send it as Plain Text. (Format > Plain Text)

Modern Cars

Have things changed since I learned to drive? *

I was told that, except for the briefest stops, not to wait at traffic signals in gear with the clutch in.

Following the above advice, use the parking brake when stopped. Now every car in front is held on the footbrake judging by the high level brake lights shining in my eyes.

I was taught not to turn the steering unless the vehicle was in motion because of the wear to tyres and strain on steering components. Does power steering over-rule this advice?

It was asking for trouble to start the car with lights, heaters and radio on. Modern lead acid batteries seem to lap up this abuse.

* That's a rhetorical question so don't say "Yes, they invented the wheel."

Tarting up the Pies

Back in May this year I discovered Google Charts and put them to good use updating pie charts on the Statistics page. There is just one downside to the Google Charts; the fill colours are on a gradient and it is not very easy to distinguish colours next to each other. I quite like the effect because I can keep the colours within the blue palette that the LPMCC.net site is styled around. For viewers this makes the information difficult to interpret - it is style over function and I'm the first to criticise that kind of arty-farty nonsense.

The pre-Google pie chart had DHTML to highlight the pie sectors when the mouse pointer passed over the key colour. It worked cross-browser but was complicated and, once constructed, there was no chance that I would update the chart as the data changed. Keeping the data current using Google Charts is a much more valuable asset so the Dynamic bit went out when Google pie charts came in.

I still fretted about the difficulty of telling one shade of blue form the next and regretted the trade off.

Then I thought of a way to get some of the functionality back. It only works for viewers using Internet Explorer because it uses their proprietary Chroma Filter style. Here is a reminder of how that is defined.

style = "filter:chroma(color=#CCDDFF); width:350px; height:350px;"

Attached to an element or a class this would render everything  pale blue  as transparent. Note that filters can only be applied to elements with defined width and height!

This is how the pies are made interactive even though Google provides the chart.

  1. Set the pie chart background style to red for the highlight colour, the chroma filter to black so that none of the colours in the chart are transparent to begin with, and set the dimensions so the filter will work.
  2. Add onMouseover and onMouseout events to the key colours to turn the highlighting on and off.
  3. The onMouseover highlighting function remembers the original key colour, changes the background colour of the key to red and sets the chroma of the pie chart image to the remembered key colour. When this is done the original key colour becomes transparent in the chart and the red background shows through.
  4. The onMouseout function resets the pie chart image chroma to black so that the original colour returns. The key background is returned to the remembered colour.

Simple and it works. There were just a couple of problems to overcome.

The events were added to the keys using JavaScript rather than adding them in-line. So I needed a way to determine which pie chart the key colour was referring to. It would have been a lot easier if there was only one pie as I could have controlled it through its ID. Sorry, but I used an awful bit of DOM and destruction. The pie chart is found relative to the key as follows.

this.parentNode.parentNode. getElementsByTagName("IMG")[0]

The key SPAN element is "this", it is in a DIV and that too is in a DIV that holds the Google Chart IMG element. So I look back to the parent's parent. Then I find the first (and only) image by creating an array of the image elements and choosing the first (with index 0). I use that in preference to searching out childNodes because of the prattfalls that can occur with spaces, tabs and linefeeds being counted as Nodes!

The other problem I still have not completely solved so you can see the odd result in the languages pie. If you pass Google Charts two colours then the returned .PNG image of your pie will have the slices coloured in a gradient between those colours. If the number of countries or languages was always constant I could check what colour Google makes each one and set the keys to those colours - as I have for the twelve Sections. For the language pie, with different numbers of sectors each month, I tried to calculate the gradient between pale blue (#CCDDFF) and dark blue (#000081). I came pretty close but some of them just miss by one unit out of 768 and as a result some keys do not have a sector with exactly the same colour so no slices turn transparent to show the red background.

I could define the colours exactly as part of the Google Chart API but that would mean the end colour could be different every month. Or I could ask how Google calculate the gradient.

Don't Knock It

Today I did a site inspection on Barkby Thorpe Lane in Thurmaston. The memories from years ago flooded back.

I once dated a girl from that area. The first time I called at her house to take her out I couldn't get an answer at the door so I took hold of the brass knocker and gave it a good rat-a-tat-tat. So good the damn thing broke off in my hand. The door was opened almost immediately and in my confusion I thrust the knocker into my pocket.

Later that evening when we returned and were having a cuddle on her doorstep the door was suddenly flung open and her father leapt out.

"Oh, sorry." he apologised. "I didn't mean to intrude on your privacy. But some blighter pinched my door knocker earlier tonight."

I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out the knocker not knowing what to say. I can still see the look on his face and was glad he didn't put it into words.

"You better keep your hands off my daughter!"

Cache in the Attic

When Roy Dudgon passed away recently most of his photos and 8mm cine film were in danger of being consigned to the tip. Roy and Mary Dudgon and their friend Tony Wilde were members of the International Motorcycle Tour Club from way back so their collection included a lot of material in parallel with our own memories.

Luckily Roy's friend Les Hobbs rescued whatever he could identify. Les has set about the expensive and time consuming task of transfering the 8mm cine to digital video. He is now sending the results to LPMCC.net for wider appreciation. Les says ...

Start of quotation When I returned home in 2007 from Latvia I went to see Roy to find that he had passed on. The family that I never knew existed where clearing the house out and it was all going to be binned. I asked about the photo albums, all taken on slides, and was told that I could have what ever I wanted as it was all going to the tip! I spent a good 5 hours going through the albums that, stacked on top of each other, would have reached the ceiling! I salvaged what I could. I would like to have had them all but space is at a premium, so I finished up with about 20%, dumping a lot of panoramic landscapes/personal content and hanging on to the motor cycle related ones. At the last moment I was presented with the 8mm films as the garage was being cleared out and a load of slides along with two cups from the Wrekin and District MCC, which was run by Roy, Tony and Mary at one time I believe.

I was going to pass the cups to the National Motor Cycle Museum (might still do that) and the films & slides to the VMCC archives at Burton-on-Trent. I suppose they could have the originals when I've finished with them, but the chances are that they would be seldom seen! End of quotation

- Les

I found some free software for 'ripping' DVD files into formats that I can edit. I picked out all the best motorcycle bits to keep it below 5mins from the original half hour and posted the result to YouTube so it can be shown in the 1960s Gallery.

Roy's titling of the film indicates that it was shown on club nights from time to time. It is a bit like photo albums that are very special to the people involved but a trifle tedious to others. The albums get put away in the attic and become mentally labelled as 'junk'.

After 40 years it evolves into treasure as our memory of the events fade and the pictures recapture times, places and events we can no longer imagine. Then they need to be brought out and seen afresh.

Club nights have a small captive audience most of whom have seen the pictures before. The level of interest will be disappointing. With the internet (and YouTube) the audience is global and there are plenty of people interested in the subject (whatever it is!) actively seeking it out.

Les Hobbs sums up:

Start of quotation It's a damn pity that it could not have been done while they were alive, they would have been pleased to see the result. End of quotation

- Les

After 40 years the photos and films tucked away in your attic are priceless.

What happened while you were away

One thing that LPMCC.net prides itself in is the rate at which new content is added to the site. We have dedicated correspondents keen to record those glory days. Not only do we have plenty of fresh content - it is all exclusive to LPMCC.net! if you don't see it here you won't find it anywhere else.

Because people come back to LPMCC.net to see what has been added there is a list of recent content and items added in the past week were part of the main menu on the left of the page. This was recently separated from the main menu and then, last month, it was tweaked to indicate the new content since your last vist.

Of couse, it ain't as simple as that. What about people who are seeing LPMCC.net for the first time? What about the deprived visitors who are returning after several months? For those the 'New' list becomes the 'Recent' list and defaults to the past week.

What I didn't take account of in my pride was getting a week with no new content (heaven forbid!) Because I don't include the News Update when I count new pages there could conceivably be times when there are no new items (sob). So another tweak to the New/Recent menu is that it should always show something - even if it is over a week ago.

It is all achieved by monkeying about with cookies. That means it is based on information about when your computer visits LPMCC.net. I can do some testing but the proof of the pudding cookie is in the eating browsing. I am very much depending on my dedicated users letting me know if the system is working and if it is providing a useful service in helping you to quickly find the content that you have not seen before. Take a look to the left now and please let me know if it is working for you.

YouTube AudioSwap

Last week I put more of Roy Dudgon's 8mm film onto YouTube. That makes five snippets from the 1960s courtesy of Les Hobbs.

Some of the film is in black and white and some is in colour - not bad considering that in the 60s we were still on black and white photos and generally getting them printed and developed at huge cost through the local chemist. The advent of One Hour Service from a wide choice of photo shops was not even on the horizon let alone digital cameras.

Roy didn't appear to have a sound system so the films are all silent. A frantic piano accompaniment might not be the correct period but some sound is better than none.

Happily YouTube provide a background music service called AudioSwap. It helps to avoid digital rights conflicts and showcases a few musicians. I don't know how much use the system gets because there are a some drawbacks. The biggest problem is that it totally replaces any existing sound. Most digital media - from camcorders, digicams and mobile phones - record some sound that provides context to the movie and should be retained even if lowered in volume. Our 8mm film does not have that problem and, unless Les also discovered a reel to reel tape of Roy's commentary, there is no soundtrack to overwrite on these videos.

The next problem is one of choice. It needs to be about the right length: YouTube give you the option to select from music of similar length. Music also needs to be fairly appropriate for the subject. Given a choice that is mostly aimed at video clips off 20something's mobile phones I was a bit pushed here.

Sorry, sorry! For the Tyrolean Church Parade I could find nothing better than "When the Saints Go Marching In" by Rebirth Brass Band!

Surprisingly the remaining clips fared much better. The Wrekin Cup Trial is backed by "keep goin" by Tomas PhUsioN (sic), a chirpy tune with an appropriate refrain. The Motorcycle Grasstrack 1961 footage is backed by a rock'n'roll number that really adds to the effect. Similarly the David Proe Jnr Cup Trial is well suited by music that bumps along with the bikes.

The finest match has to be "Thousand Mile Wish" by Finger Eleven that accompanies European Capers. What really makes the music special are the lyrics when the film moves to the Grossglockner Pass. Play it with the sound turned up.

AudioSwap already has a lot of music available and I expect it will be improved rapidly so no-one has any excuse for ripping off copyright music. As well as a wider choice it would help to have a more powerful way of sorting the music genres or at least list them in alphabetic or time order.

It would also help me a lot if the modified video had the name of the track in the Info & Settings page so LPMCC.net can give credit where it's due.

Really Random Ramblings

The purpose of this blog is to inform and entertain anyone who stumbles upon it. But mainly it should reveal the way I think about LPMCC.net and related subjects. Well today, dear reader, you will find how close to insanity I can get.

First how I came to this subject.

The comment form on LPMCC.net is a standard HTML form system that allows anyone to send me a message without needing to use email. They can even be anonymous if preferred. The form elements in HTML include, beside the select, checkboxes and radio buttons, one called <input type=file> that should allow visitors to attach a picture or a report to the submission. I have never been able to get this potentially useful feature to work and suspect it requires some kind of server side programming. At work the other day I was asked to take a look at a website under development and noticed that they use a file submission form so I delved into the HTML (View > Source). Disappointingly the code called a tool using a $$ indicator - so I Googled $$ and JavaScript: See, I've already wandered off the track of what I was asked to do!

The Google search took me to the Yahoo! Interface Blog by Stoyan Stefanov. The article on Non-blocking JavaScript includes well referenced comments and digressions that triggered a cascade of further thoughts. Here are some of the bits that need action on LPMCC.net!

  1. I use lots of JavaScript libraries to contain functions and data to create the pages on the fly. These may slow down the appearance of the page and its pictures. The order they are opened is critical so that a function in library B doesn't expect data in library C that hasn't arrived yet. I have just let the system grow and get out of hand. I was already considering rationalising the data libraries. A few years ago I saw the sense in separating the functions that do the work and are relatively consistent from the data library that can change daily -sometimes several times! There are other data libraries that change less frequently. In descending order they are Menu, People, Badges, Photos, Citations and Ex-members. There is a good case for putting at least some of these into the same library so there are less HTTP requests calling for files from the server. The trade off is that many of these libraries will be cached (saved as webfiles) on your computer hard disk after the first visit. Only the changed files are requested from the server.
  2. The menu library is a quite recent addition. It is called by every page on LPMCC.net. As well as providing the left hand main menu system it also determines what is before and after the current page if Alt < or > is pressed on the keyboard. The Site Map and Content List both use it to construct their indexes to LPMCC.net. By the time it was added all pages would need to have the link inserted. I baulked at such a major editing task, mainly because every page would have been given a new date at the bottom. Maybe an advantage to visitors who want to see they are reading up-to-date material but, god dammit, this site revels in its traditions and history. We want no truck with new stuff unless it is new old stuff. Any-road-up, to get round editing 800+ pages the Menu library was inserted using JavaScript in the Common library! The denouement from Stoyan is that it is not recommended practice to use document.write() for this purpose (or even for page content if the source is off page and may not be available). Stoyan provides a better way to do this insertion and that needs to be rolled out to LPMCC.net.
  3. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) are kept in several libraries - the default library for every page, a section local library and a special print library that formats all page styles to leave out the fancy stuff that is only of use on the monitor and would otherwise waste your paper and ink. Room for rationalisation here as well.
  4. A great deal of every page is the same throughout all sections of LPMCC.net. Things like the title banner, the main, right-click context and bottom menus. These are created from the data libraries using document.write() functions in the common library. So are some of the fancier picture turning effects and several other cheats that insert <script> snippets into the page HTML. If I use a library function to write this content there will be problems if the library doesn't arrive in time. Therefore these items need to be added using create.Element('tgname') or by adding innerHTML to a hard coded container element. The former method is used in the Ex-Member Lists. The latter is the method used on the afformentioned Content List. As well as being less prone to errors if library files don't arrive in time, they mean the page content can be changed without the delay of reloading the whole page.

Waterfall diagram showing how long it takes for the JavaScript library files to arrive.

 

On subsequent pages the libraries that have loaded once are read from the client's computer cache. Diagrams are from performance.webpagetest.org.

 

OK, that all sounds simple enough. What am I waiting for? Why isn't it done?

Well, this was where my brain process went off on yet another tangent! The above changes will need all replace pages to be edited, a process I don't take lightly or want to repeat more than once every three or four years at the most. If I'm gonna bite the bullet and edit everything then what other things would I change at the same time? Oh boy, do I have a shopping list!

Mainly the page style needs a makeover. Why? Well, aren't you getting bored with it? Isn't it just a little bit last millennium? There are things that may need to be retained such as:

  • The familiar navigation - I don't want to alienate old friends who have just come to terms with the quirky navigation. Forcing change would also challenge convention and I'm too bleddy old for them shenanigans.
  • The colour palette - Sometimes I consider rendering LPMCC.net in Biker Black but several considerations restrain me. The current palette reproduces the muted blues of the 1960/70s club badge. The Living Club website is a paragon of clarity and simplicity that inspires me. Finally, let's face it, target audience probably has failing eyesight.

Colour Palette

With just a few cascading style sheets to alter it should be simple to change the appearance of LPMCC.net ... except. In my ignorance there are many element level and page level styles. Worse still are all the JavaScript style definitions that aren't confined to position and size but wander off into colours. All these styles need to be traced and redefined via classes. Bugger.

I should also tackle the order that the different areas of the page are written. At the moment it is 'Title - Main menu - Content' and that is less than helpful for search engines. It needs changing to 'Content - Main menu - Title' order. I did make a stab at this about a year ago with total failure. Time for another, more determined stab.

I'm not at all satisfied with the way the page content centres in the space when the browser window is resized. There is a much cleaner way to do this with CSS that would remove the delay and processing overhead of the current JavaScript function.

This blog entry can now be my check list and work notes.

Disclaimer

Let me set your mind at peace. This all started when I was asked to check a safety engineering website at work. (see paragraph three!) The meandering track of the resulting thought process didn't happen in work time. Just thought I'd add that for the benefit of rate-payers, customers, stake-holders and any of my bosses who find this blog!

Slippery When Wet

A couple of years ago I did a route study to improve safety on the A512 from the A42 to the M1 in Leicestershire. One place that concerned me was the bends by the Bulls Head in Thringstone where there are no less than five highly polished manhole covers on the eastbound carriageway right through the bends plus two large covers on the westbound approach.

These covers may not be causing riders to lose control from front wheel slides but they could force the rider to take a line that is a compromise between the hazards created by the covers and oncoming traffic.

The accident record for this location from 1979 to 2008 records 15 injury accidents. Three accidents involved two wheel vehicles and none appear to have been due to the manhole covers. So there doesn't appear to be a past problem. But I planned to extend the antiskid surface. This could contrast the difference of surface friction between the general road surface and the polished covers.

Severn Trent, who owns the manholes, gave permission for me to coat the covers with a high friction material that was supplied by Instarmac. I asked the contactor to clean and mask the covers and apply the resin and high friction grit when temporary lights were controlling the traffic while the calcined bauxite was applied.

The contractors weren't too keen to do this work. They were concerned about cleaning the covers, worried they could stick the covers down permanently and bung up the lifting holes and anxious that the traffic control would need to be extended to allow the resin time to cure. They negotiated for an extra £1K to apply the material to two covers. Finally they declined to do it.

There are covers with better properties. Fibrelite meets current standards for strength and has a surface that does not become so slippery in the wet. They are only available for installation as a complete frame and cover unit. St Gobain can provide just the covers.

As a local authority we have several problems pursuing these measures.

First it is the responsibility of the utilities to improve their inspection covers. Efforts are being made to incorporate grip as well as strength in the standard for manhole covers. Until then I need to get approval of the relevant owner of the cover to muck about with it because they have no incentive to do so. That also means I take responsibility for the results.

Second, to clean and provide a keying surface, control adhesive mix and application, and allow sufficient curing time, the ideal method would be to replace the covers by a manhole lid that has been prepared in workshop conditions rather than rushed by general road gangs out in the weather. "Here's one I made earlier." The problem is that the triangular covers are hinged to the frame.

Finally we have to provide value for money; we cannot make a big investment in solving this if it isn't a problem. Local authorities have a statutory duty to make their roads safe from personal injury accidents. If riders are writing off their motorcycles but not getting hurt then I ain't interested. Like the man says "Has someone got to be killed or injured before you will do something?" Answer = "YES!" - I cannot reduce casualties if there are none to begin with.

If you have had a run-in (or out!) with a manhole cover in Leicestershire, please send me the location, when it happened and your direction. Also let me know if this was a real problem ie you crashed OR a potential problem that gives you the shits.

Move the map to the approx location, zoom in on the cross hair sights and adjust the location as accurately as possible. If you go into satellite view you can sometimes zoom in close enough to see the manholes.

Direction of travel (going to)
Click the radio button that is the best match for this bit of the road.
When (Time, date, season?)
Status of hazard  Real        Potential
Your Name
Your Email
Reset all boxes
Send Report

If you have a manhole problem that is not in my county then contact your local authority highways department and tell them about it. Once they are told of a problem they can begin to get the measure of it and have less grounds for claiming they didn't know if they later get sued. Just don't tell 'em I sent you. While you are still indignant about this issue sign the petition on the No 10 website.

Microformat

Microformat is a buzz-word creeping into the geek vocabulary. It is documented at microformats.org if you are that way inclined. Here at the LPMCC.net Sanatiorium we keep a lookout for anything new that could either provide a useful service to our dedicated fans and/or make life easier for the management. So far I'm not sure how microformats will be of benefit but they seem to be a simple way of delivering what Tim Berners-Lee perceives as the still-to-be-achieved destiny of the World Wide Web: universal availability of computer understandable data.

Another buzz-word is mashup that can be roughly described as accessing data from different locations and combining them so they can be presented in a way that is useful and more than the sum of the parts. Effectively it is a global way of doing some of the things I try on LPMCC.net when I combine quasi-database information, for example, to indicate the other pages within the site that a person appears on. You can imagine how powerful that ability would be if rolled out to the whole web. A kind of automatic hyperlinking of everything to everything relevant.

To enable this to take off it is necessary for the available data to reach critical mass. I am doing my bit by making the events calendar available via microformat markup. It does not change the appearance for the viewer but it does make the information contained in it understandable by a computer. The key word here is understandable! Computers can read anything digital, from ASCII text files to video, but to understand and make intelligent use of the information it needs to know what it is reading. The calendar page tells the computer that it is an event, summarises the title, gives the date, geocodes the location and provides a web page for further information.

With Internet Explorer 8 able to get data using XDomainRequest and Yahoo! piloting Fire Eagle the technology is currently running ahead of most people's imagination.

At this stage the LPMCC.net event microformat is casting bread upon the water.

First the Good News ...

In August LPMCC.net received enough visitors to take us well over 150,000 - we only just missed topping it in July. This means 50,0000 visitors in the first eight months of this year compared with 100,000 visitors in the preceeding 6 years 5 months!

Also in August the number of pages viewed was the highest ever at 38,115 compared to just over 10,000 this time last year.

There is little doubt that the lively content sent in by the people who have enjoyed motorcycling since the Dark Ages (ie Lucas and Wipac) is encouraging visitors to delve ever deeper into our mysterious navigation system.

The bad news is that the number of visitors has dropped for the second successive month and only just beat 5000. I could grin and declare it is because you are all out riding motorbikes, but that didn't create a slack period last year.

So I will just have to hold my nerve and trust that the new reports pouring in prompt ever more interest. Tell your friends about LPMCC.net.

New Kid on the Block

After the recent launch of Firefox version 3 we are now taking delivery of Internet Explorer version 8. At least in Beta. That means I can test LPMCC.net against the next generation of the Microsoft browser. Generally the browsers are slowly heading towards standards compliance which is a double edged sword. On the one hand they should begin to behave in a similar way for HTML, Cascading Style Sheets and JavaScript functions. But against that is the hard fact that they are beginning to expect the page to be written correctly with none of the forgiving nature of earlier versions of Internet Explorer.

No sooner was I beginning to feel smug about keeping up with Firefox and Internet Explorer than there is a new arrival. Well, OK there are other browsers about but they are very much in the minority and, taking a very realistic view of LPMCC.net demographics, unlikely to be used in earnest on this website. But the new entry could be very different, considering the muscle behind it. Enter Google Chrome.

Now I have yet another browser to try LPMCC.net with. Google Chrome is in Beta at the moment, but it certainly looks like a contender. The window is Google minimalist, so much so that I have trouble feeling my way about. It has clean lines and flowing shapes. It is quick and LPMCC.net is 85% OK. Ah, but what of the other 15%?

First the content of the page was not being contained in a 500 pixel column and the centering was all lopsided. To overcome that problem, and also to finally nail an issue I have struggled with for yonks, I went back to centering the content using a table. This is the third attempt, the most recent failure causing me a lot of angst last month. The new system needs a touch more tweaking but it solved the column width problem in Google Chrome.

Another problem is the location of the FreeFind search box that is perched on the top right of every page. In Google Chrome it wanders off a bit further than it ought to. This probably provides a clue. Maybe Google Chrome doesn't like items that have their position style set from the right instead of the left.

The question is - Do I experiment with alternative styles (and maybe some JavaScript fix) that will overcome this? Or should I hope that Google will bring Chroma into line with other browsers?

In the meantime, if you want to help out with some Beta testing the browsers can be downloaded here:

Your feedback is, as always, invaluable.

Triumph Font

Websites are usually rendered in a limited set of fonts because it is necessary for the font to already be installed on the PC of the person viewing the website. That is why most websites stick to the few ubiquitous (even iniquitous) fonts provided by the supplier of the operating system. LPMCC.net is no different. The font of choice is Verdana because it is slightly roomier than Arial. If you are using a Mac then it should degrade gracefully to whatever non serif font you have available.

It is easy to go overboard with fonts (and colours, and animations and ...) especially the glorious display fonts. Problem is, if the font that the webmaster intended is not on your computer then there is a chance that the substitute character set will not be anything like was intended. Out of character.

Internet Explorer provides a mechanism for embedding a font on a website so it will appear regardless of if the viewer has it on their PC. Microsoft produces a free application called Weft that converts .ttf fonts to an .eot object. This file is placed on the website and the font can then be specified in Cascading Style Sheets. That is what I did this week to render the comments on rally reports in a handwritten font.

If you view the same pages in Firefox or Google Chrome then the font embedding doesn't work and the page falls back on a list of alternative fonts - including the equally common Comic Sans.

But I want much more for the future and therefore have squandered more time than I care to admit creating my own fonts using an excellent web based application from FontShop called FontStruct.
Here is some of it!

Yes, it's a font. A TrueType Font. Still some work to do on it with Toads, Ducks and Tractor warning signs to add. There is another font for mandatory signs due to a size limitation. Then all you motorcyclists will be able to read the website like you read the road!

Now I'll Panic

September was the fourth month of falling numbers of visitors to LPMCC.net. Other months have shown a sustained increase in the number of hits and pages viewed but last month all measures were down. It isn't the first time there has been a drop in numbers; there was a four month tumble across similar months last year but then all records were broken in December. What really bothers me is that I have no control over what happens and can't even predict on the basis of season, weather, the cost of petrol or banks going bust.

So I just have to sit tight and see what happens. Keep my nerve and hope that you who have discovered the site will return for the new items that are continuously added, recommend it to like minded friends and generate even more interest by sending in scans of photos and badges, tales of motorcycle touring and such like.


Riders who have set off round the world or on some similar epic journey (and lived to write the book) generally seem to have all set off in a similar frame of mind - total ignorance of the task.

They succeed despite the pitfalls because they don't tackle the problems until they appear, then use natural resourcefulness to overcome (or avoid) them. Pre-warned is not always pre-armed. Sometimes it is just downright discouraging.

I mention that in case you have some idea that could light up LPMCC.net but you are thinking "It can't be done". I am totally ignorant of the pitfalls and problems of websites - so I would probably take it all the way round the World(WideWeb). Let me in on your brainwave.


In case you are wondering why I have this fetish for reaching a bigger and wider audience let me assure you that it is not just because that is the target for all websites. It is because there are still a lot of past members, friends and friends of friends out there who we want to contact. Having their name on LPMCC.net and having LPMCC.net indexed on search engines (that's Google and Yahoo! etc to me and you) with a high ranking means that on the day they make a search for their own name they will discover all their old friends who they thought had forgotten them. Then they can come home.

That is why it is important.

Wet Leathers

Last month's results hung on me like wet leathers. I was in dire need of inspiration but the missus had been invited to a BMF track day at Mallory Park and, on the off chance that she may be able to blag a ride, had me searching the attic for her motorcycle kit.

In the process I turned up a box of slides and photos that I had long forgotten and my attention to the task in hand flew straight out of the skylight.

These photos were relegated to the gable end because they aren't very good - end of roll - out of focus - under exposed. But if they contain recognisable friends then with a bit of work they could merit inclusion on LPMCC.net. One photo is of my AJS/Jet 80 combo at an Elephant Rally so I thought it could go into the report with a few lines to explain it.

Most of the words I came up with described the bike rather than the rally. I thought ... there should be more on LPMCC.net about our bikes ... much more!

Hence work is afoot to create a whole new section dedicated to our favourite motorcycles. If you are a regular to LPMCC.net there will be a link here to preview the section.  Motorbike Index  If not you will have to wait until Saturday 1st November for the official tape cutting.

Selected friends have been invited to send their bike stories in time for the launch. Their enthusiastic response has lifted my spirits. A bike ride in warm weather will soon dry wet leather.

Tag, You're On

Sorry if my despair earlier in the month transmitted over to you. Dave Honneyman was concerned that LPMCC.net may fold, God bless him. I'm cheering up now due to a lot of support from the regulars and the prospects of an exciting new section come 1st November.

Just to reassure you: LPMCC.net is safe for the foreseeable simply because I get so much enjoyment from building it. The pleasure comes on many levels.

Stories and tales told by contributors are always a joy to read. And there are so many now that - with my failing memory - I can always read them again and find them just as fresh and enjoyable. Motorcycling is a strangely sociable pastime because we are bonded by experiences that are difficult to put into words - you just know. LPMCC.net writers get as close to capturing that shared knowledge as anyone.

Shared experience is like the time I took a bend, skidded on a pile of cow shit and ended up in the ditch. After pulling the bike back out I was straightening the handlebars when another rider came round the same bend, skidded on the same pile and put his bike in the ditch next to me. As I helped him pull his bike back onto the road I nodded towards the shit and said "I've just done that" to which he replied "Well, you ought to have your blinking nose rubbed in it!"

The Challenge of putting it all onto LPMCC.net. Contributors quickly stack up piles of pages to be posted to the server and there are lots of new technologies for me to get wrong. Some folk like to play computer games. Websites are more fun because you can inflict the results on other people.

I make the pages as simple as possible by using templates and making the menus and indices automatic with data and JavaScript. They don't make things any quicker but they replace boring stuff by more challenging tasks.

Finding old friends and making new ones. The internet makes it ever easier to trace old friends anywhere in the world. If their name is on a website there is a high chance that a search will turn them up. The problem is that many folk my ... er ... age aren't on a website anywhere. That is why I put their name on LPMCC.net in the hope that anyone who searches for their name - including themselves will find us.

Despite a lot of success there are still many people out there we would love to hear from - Tony Loach, Bruce Gibson, Mick Sharpe ... The lists are in the Past Members section.

There are a few tasks that are a chore. One of them that I need to get to grips with is the meta tags. These are information about the page that is hidden from the normal viewer but that may be used by search engines when indexing the page. I usually put them in as an after thought if they go in at all. The total is 147 pages out of without adequate meta tags for description and key words. I can think of lots of things I would sooner do than go through that lot but it needs to be done. In the best tradition of setting targets and indicators I'll promise to fix them all by Christmas and I'll put the number on this blog so you can see how badly I'm failing. And while I'm at it I'll add the tags to this page!

Up And Up

After the depressing start to the month things are now on the up-and-up.

Thanks to Hayley Easthope there is a rush of new reports in the rally section and Mick Mansells badges are being added over the next few days. With several days to go before the end of the month, new pages and new content are once again on the rise.

I checked the number of visitors seven days before the end of October and can report that we have broken out of the doldrums. It won't be a record breaking October by any means but it is up on September's worrying figures and this time last year.

I put this improvement down to you, the present visitors, passing the word on to friends who you know will enjoy LPMCC.net content, and for your contributions that keep LPMCC.net fresh and interesting.

Along with the upturn to LPMCC.net fortunes my own spirits have recovered - no the antidote didn't come out of a bottle. I have been enjoying putting together the Motorbike section that will be launched on 1st November. There are already interesting motorcycle stories in there that will secure success for the new section and I hope it will encourage everyone to record an epitaph for their long gone but never forgotten favourite bike. I call the new section Motorbikes without apology because there are no pretensions about it. These machines were nothing remarkable. It was only to us that they were special and that magic ingredient should be preserved and shared.

I can only hope that the world economy experiences a similar swift reversal of fortunes (pun intended!)

Fanfare

LPMCC.net is proud to join the Big Players by featuring a Global Launch for its new Motorbikes section.

This is the first new section to be added to the old time motorcycle trubute website for many years.

Motorbikes already features the stories of a score of your best, worst or indifferent motorcycles and episodes in their (and your) lives.

If the pages bring a lump to your throat you better cough it up. It may be one of the socks you just laughed off.

Any-road-up, there is still space on the creaking LPMCC.net website for your tales and photos. It doesn't need to be long and technical unless you want it to be. Be sure to include the names of the friends who helped you fix that nail or who you blew into the dust when it finally ran well.

No End of Pages

After the optimism of the blog late last month it seems that hopes were justified. The monthly total of visitors is once again on the rise with 5857 people flocking to LPMCC.net. That thoroughly reverses the downward trend of August and September. Much more important for you are the new content pages added over the past couple of weeks.

Here is a thought. Visitors see about six pages each month - and I bet many of those are the weekly News page for the Foz Spot! New pages are added at an average rate of thirteen per month - plus five existing pages receive additional content. Therefore you will never catch up with all the pages on LPMCC.net. Or to put it as a score line:

Visitors 6, Contributors 13

To illustrate the rate of growth of LPMCC.net there is an additional graph on the Statistics page.

You must work harder.

You're a Piano

There may come a time when LPMCC.net outgrows the present server - my internet providers at Plus.net. Maybe it will outgrow it because the quantity of data exceeds 250MB. Today it is using 209MB (83.6%) and there is "only" 41MB still to use. Recent material about the Kettering and District MCC provided by Slim Tompkins will quickly eat into that. There is not much chance that I will bust the server limits by exceeding my allocated bandwidth usage, that is the quantity of files seen by LPMCC.net visitors.

In August the number of hits peaked at 268,844 which is a huge number for a very niche website. The European knowledge website launched yesterday and their servers were immediately brought to their knees by the demand of over 10 million hits per hour.

I must bid for the service of their publicists!

When it does go back on-line in mid December, take a look at http://www.europeana.eu but be sure to come back to good ol' LPMCC.net if you make it fall over again.

Still Getting Lost

Although I have taken to computers and the internet with relish I am still sent into a tiz trying to program the video and throw my mobile phone to the kids if I hear it ring (usually I don't hear it!)

When we used to ride hundreds of miles to find obscure campsites in the dark we relied on memorising a route from the back of an AA book, instinctive sense of direction and a bit of common sense. It rarely let us down.

Therefore I consider the people who spend hundreds of pounds on SatNav systems to belong to that growing sector of the population with more money than sense. Worse than that, it is something else to take their attention from the road and endangers every motorcycle rider with the misfortune to cross their path.

They are even becoming the system of choice for National Rally entrants. Still, that is an experience rather than a competition otherwise it would be a case of best technology wins.

But then again ...

Last week we took the girls to a gig in Nottingham. We had a map on the back of the programme that looked the business. It took no time to find our way to the city despite jams on the M1. But Nottingham continues to possess its own labyrinthine system of initiative tests. Signs point in the general direction and then disappear. Lane markings on left and right turned us into a one way system without any possibility of turning back. In the end we were not even sure we were in the city any more.

When Tony Loach worked at a petrol station on Belgrave Road, Leicester in the 1960s a driver asked directions to the Castle. Tony puzzled the best way to direct him back into the centre of the city when the driver stated "I was told to follow the number 18 trolley bus."

Tony said "The nearest trolley buses to here are in Nottingham!" to which the response was "Isn't this Nottingham?"

Eventually we stopped at a petrol station to ask for directions. The owner looked at us askance. Our destination was 100 yards further down the road.

We got just as lost on the way back out of Nottingham. I suppose SatNav might be a good idea in the absence of proper direction signs. They are probably safer than reading a map on your knee and making sudden illegal U-turns.

I wrote about this back in February 2008.

Sounds Awful

It isn't often I'm stumped for an answer to a computer problem - and even rarer to admit to it - but this is one you may be able to help me with.

Eric Tindall has loaned me an audio cassette recording of his radio interview just before the World 24 Hour Non Stop Record. After 25 years the recording is still sharp and it would be good to include it on LPMCC.net, subject to copyright permission.

I have used the earphone out from my hi-fi deck and the line-in to my computer and saved the file in WAV format as a starting point. It's bleddy awful.

I have several audio applications on the computer and have done my best to remove noise, hiss and clicks. The background is now quiet but the voices still contain unacceptable buzz. When I tried to write the sound and pictures to a WMV slide show it became impossible to hear what was being said.

My questions are:

  • Do I need to use a different player than my old hi-fi?
  • Should there be some other hardware filter between earphone and line-in?
  • What are the best programs for cleaning up audi without turning it into 'funf speaking'?

Any help or advice gratefully received. Otherwise my next attempt will be to use a microphone near the hi-fi speakers in the hope of eliminating some of the horrid buzz that totally ruins a perfect recording of Eric's mellow youthful tones.

Name on the Map

Right from the very beginning of LPMCC.net, way back in 2001, it has been important to identify the friends in photographs. The mark-up script that web pages are written in has an ideal 'tag' for making hotspots on images - originally so that clicking a hotspot (with a suitable word or icon) will hyperlink to a new page or different place on the current page. This system is called mapping an image. It has the customary ability to provide 'tooltip text' when the pointer passes over a hotspot and this ability was put to use on LPMCC.net to define a hotspot on each person in a photograph and add their name to the tooltip. This means that moving the mouse about the photo will reveal the names of the people shown.

An illustrated explanation is on the LPMCC.net image map documentation page.

The HTML to do this is as follows.

<img src="photograph.jpg" usemap="#photo">

<map name="photo">
<area shape="rect" coords="100,100,200,200" alt="alt tooltip">
</map>

The above mark-up is simplified to just illustrate the salient points. The photo map has a hotspot from 100 pixels to 200 pixels across and 100 pixels to 200 pixels down. Hovering the pointer in that area will produce the tooltip derived from the alt property of the area tag - if they have not been turned off in your browser settings. There is also a title property that can produce a tooltip. In the example below there are both alt and title tooltips. Pause your pointer over the yellow hotspots to see what happens.

alt tooltip alt tooltip

With Internet Explorer the alt or the title will produce a tooltip but the alt takes priority. With all the other browsers only the title makes a tooltip. To make areas show tooltips in all browsers they have onMouseover and onMouseout events added to them when the page opens that will change the alt to title for non IE browsers. These events also put the title and alt in the window status line at the bottom left.

Another thing the onMouseover event does is to change the cursor to a query to signify that there is information here. This is done by making the <area style="cursor:help;" ... but stylesheets don't work with map and area tags in Internet Explorer. They are achieved by setting the image cursor to a hand as part of the onMouseover JavaScript event.

As well as rectangular areas it is also possible to use circles and polygons to define the person or face that needs to be named.

I use title tooltips for other hot-spot information that isn't names, such as to identify motorcycles or other items in the photographs. I also use title tooltips in other places where there is more information for you if you hover your pointer - the help words on LPMCC.net are a common example.

If that isn't complicated enough there are two other tricks that I have used to make things even more difficult for me and easier for you.

Page Turns

Space on a web page is virtualy unlimited if the user scrolls across or down the page. In (good) practice everything to be seen in one look should be visible without scrolling. It is a convention to make web pages fit on an 800 pixel by 600 pixel screen. When there are a lot of pictures to see the usual method of providing access is by using thumbnail size versions. If one of these mini pictures is clicked a larger version appears. Although this method is used on a few LPMCC.net pages, generally I have used a system where the top right curly corner can be clicked to 'turn over' to a new photo. I don't know of any other website that uses this metaphor to access multiple images and I don't have any feedback to say how it is received. Do users like it or hate it?

The page turn becomes complicated where there are image maps. It all used to be hard scripted but these days it is written 'client side' by JavaScript. When the picture changes, the map changes as well.

People Index

Sure, the bikes are important, the places and the events. But top of the list of priorities are friends. Everyone on LPMCC.net is indexed so you can find your old pals and vice versa. You can also check the slander we throw at you by looking up references to yourself. To pick up names on LPMCC.net there are a couple of systems. One looks for past members' names in the content of the page. Another, wider search is made by looking for all area alt properties (not titles). Anything in an area alt is assumed to be a person's name and is put into the left hand side People menu where a search is made for all the other pages that name appears on.

Because I have used an alt that contains "alt tooltip" on this page, that appears in the list of names over on the left!

To make sure that friends who aren't past members also appear in the people menu, pages are given a dummy map where the area alts are only a list of names and are not associated with a hotspot on a picture.

<map name="dummy">
<area alt="Joe Bloggs">
<area alt="Fanny Adams">
</map>

Music To My Ears

I seem to have found the solution to my problem making a decent digital copy of a tape recording. Still not sure what the cause was: either the player was creating a buzz or the long connecting lead was picking up noise. A different player and shorter lead has improved the quality no end.

The results are on the World Record index page as a Podcast.

Looking Ahead

Something that has occurred this past week or so is that I have so much old material to post onto LPMCC.net that I need to take a more organised approach to scheduling the work involved. With the need look ahead comes another advantage. This week's News was able to preview what will be appearing in the next week.

It remains to be seen whether there will always be enough new material for consistant previews each week. Many items arrive unexpectedly - which is what keeps LPMCC.net as interesting for me as it does for all visitors - and there is no reason to delay putting them onto the website for the sake of it.

Any-road-up, it will be interesting to see if next year can be a bit more structured than the past without losing any of the informality and spontaneity.

Bruce Gibson Dave Cooper Dave Honneyman Dave Smith David Flanagan Derek Foster Derek Tompkins Emma-Jane Kirby Eric A Meyer Eric Tindall Hayley Easthope Jamie Cason Jennifer Niederst Keith Fosberry Les Hobbs Mary Dudgon Mick Ayriss Mick Barr Mick Mansell Mick Sharpe Nat McBride Polly-Vous Francais Robert J Mudry Roy Dudgon Steve Krug Stoyan Stefanov Ted Trett Tim Berners-Lee Tony Loach Tony Wilde